Joey Fu


Summary: Well written and crafted Twine mystery rom com

[spoiler]This elegantly crafted short Twine piece presents three parallel stories. Story one is a slice-of-life romance: your former girlfriend, Emily, presents you with a birthday present she had bought before your recent break up, and it looks as if this could be the start of a rapprochement. The second is a historical detective story: the present is a typewriter, and it comes with various letters from which you begin to glean the story of a historical love triangle that ended in murder. The third also concerns the typewriter: someone seems very keen to retrieve it and the letters — a little modern mystery.

Let me start with what I liked best, which was the writing and pacing. The two stories, and the correspondence itself, and the way it was weaved together rather neatly and seamlessly with links was, I thought, very well done. The tone is mildly-self-deprecating-urban-twenty-something-graduate, and it’s captured very well. There are good use of Twine devices such as repeated and changing links, and little flashbacks. The setting has just enough oddity to make it interesting, and just enough familiarity to make it . . . well, familiar. Most of the time the writing just gets out of the way, but it’s carefully seasoned with sentimentality and humour.

The same can be said, I think, of the use of interactivity. Although in many cases the choices go in little circles, so that how the game advances seems really pre-set, the text is doled out in nice short chunks, and there’s plenty to do and choose. There are significant differences from one play-through to the next, and I never felt unduly railroaded (whether or not I was), and was able to replay with pleasure several times. Again, it’s not easy to make this look easy, or to set things up so that players feel they are having a smooth experience whichever path they take.

So I found the story elements of the piece pretty satisfactory in a sort of indie rom-commie sort of way. But I had trouble with the puzzles.

In fact, on the first play through I didn’t even quite realise they were puzzles! But what happens is this: more or less each day over the week during which the game takes place, you read a letter. And after that you often get a choice to read one of three other letters, and apparently there’s a “right” choice to be made, which you are supposed to be able to work out from the text of the letter you have just read. (Right at the end there’s a more obvious puzzle of guessing the murderer, but that’s another matter.)

I had two problems with this. First, I couldn’t really make much sense of the puzzles. That’s not surprising in itself. But there’s a “hint mode” where the “key” words of the letters you are reading are underlined — and I’m afraid that even with this help I couldn’t generally do more than vaguely guess the answer. And where I could guess it, it didn’t seem a fair puzzle at all — choosing between XO, -13 and &8 on the slender basis that one of the sentences in the letter I had just read began “And …”?

But I shouldn’t make much of this, because I am really rather terrible at puzzles of this sort, and it’s quite possible that once someone explains it to me the scales will fall from my eyes and I will see how clever this is. However, the second problem I do feel qualified to comment on: the puzzles are “artificial”, divorced from the story. Why, after all, am I committed to reading just one of the subsequent letters? They’re no more than a few lines long. I could read them all! The whole puzzle mechanic at this point rests on a choice which is transparently forced for entirely game-design purposes.

(The same, of course, could not be said for the puzzle of guessing the murderer, though it stumped me: this time, I fear, I have no-one to blame but myself.)

The big mitigating factor here was that, although solving the puzzles is good, it doesn’t matter much. It does affect the way the game develops, but (and I can say this with some confidence, having failed to solve the puzzles repeatedly) you get a perfectly good story without solving the puzzles: indeed, you don’t know you are missing anything at all.

So the puzzle design issue is not by any means a deal breaker; but it was, for me at least, a flaw — I’d much rather the puzzles had been in some way more organically integrated into one or more of the stories. But apart from that, and the horrible standard Twiney colour scheme (was it sponsored by an opticians’ trade association? I have grown to detest it!) I found this a really neatly put together piece, which has just the qualities that a light diverting game (casual, in a good sense) ought to have.[/spoiler]